Binod Magar MA, born and raised in Nepal, is a passionate young man whose heart beats for developing sustainable tourism. His devotion even brought him to Salzburg, where he pursued master studies within the field. In his online talk, Binod gives an overview about Nepalese history, culture and tourism while talking in depth about sustainability actions and initiatives. This interview sheds a light on his personal views and opinions about the status quo of sustainable tourism in his home country.
How much is tourism in Nepal appreciated?
It is hard to even imagine Nepal without tourism because this very country, as a tourist destination, has indeed EVERYTHING to offer – beautiful landscapes from jungles to highest mountain range on the planet, friendly locals, rich variety in religion and ethnicity and, furthermore, exciting, Asian cuisine. Basically it covers all of the 6 As any role-model destination shall have – Amenities (e.g. accommodation, gastronomy), Ancillary Services (e.g. health care, post), Activities (e.g. hiking, wellness), Attractions (e.g. natural, cultural), Accessibility (e.g. train, plane) and Available packages (e.g. museum entrance + bus ticket included). Yet, there is another, additional ‘A’ that particularly stands out – AUTHENTICITY.
But what exactly authentic image of Nepal encompasses, a country with such a long and rich history, especially now in 21. century? For some travellers, it is either sleeping over at guesthouses, eating traditional food, getting dressed just like the locals or a combination of all. Although AUTHENTICITY plays a key role as a motive amongst travellers, it is not the only one. Different types of tourists come with different types of tastes and preferences, which has resulted in many international stakeholders listening to them and investing in Nepal’s tourism industry. And even though international investors are welcome, there are several problems associated with their investments, such as depriving the country of its income and excessive import of foreign goods whilst replacing the local ones.
How does government support sustainable tourism development?
Until 2008, Nepal was officially recognised a kingdom and country’s sustainable development was highly supported by the King Mahendra (1920-1972) himself. He was interested in reforming the country in many ways (e.g. by conducting democracy experiment) and his advanced thinking led him to meeting Dr. Harka Gurung (1939-2006), a Nepali geographer, who later joined the National Planning Commission. Decreasing regional inequalities while analysing and reinforcing region-specific economic growth were amongst the top priorities of the committee, the very first steps on the path of sustainable development planning. Dr. Gurung’s further efforts resulted in promoting and developing mountain tourism as well as conserving wildlife and environment.
Nevertheless, currently the new mission within the democratic republic is missing and the government is satisfied so long there are tourists in Nepal, generating large amount of income for the country. In essence government wants tourism sustainability but it is neither clearly communicated nor well thought through on how to achieve it.
For instance, the Nijgadh International Airport is the greatest ongoing conflict. Proposed to help out with the air traffic from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, the construction site is at the heart of Nepalese old, native forest. Because of the inaccurately calculated and unprecedented environmental damage associated with building the largest airport in South Asia, the project had to be put on hold.
In your online talk you mentioned Nepal's 2030 Pledge. What are the preliminary results?
Unfortunately, the pledge has not being systematically operated and there are no consistent preliminary results.
Sustainability has three pillars: economic, social and environmental. In which of these are the positive effects of tourism most visible?
In my opinion, the social pillar has the greatest positive effects thus far.
Imagine a traveller visiting a remote village. He or she creates an emotional attachment to that place which results in the will of trying to help and give something back – either in a form of funding or by simply sharing their story and knowledge.
As an inspiring example serves the one of Sir Edmund Hillary, who, after reaching officially the summit of The Mountain Everest for the first time, returned to Nepal several times to give back to the community. Not only has he established the Himalayan Trust, responsible for building schools and clinics within the region, but he also contributed to building the Lukla Airport (after 2008 renamed to Tanzig-Hillary airport), to ease future travellers the access to the mountains as well as connect the locals with the outside world. Similar projects range from foreigners establishing schools for children (to smoothen or cut the distance of reaching remote schools) to adapting chimney structure (so that there is no smoke in the room but it remains warm).
The social aspect of Nepalese mountain tourism is closely related to the economic one. By attracting and developing it, the financial status of people working in the tourism industry has significantly increased. Before mountain tourism, especially in the Everest region, the locals would have to commute to big cities or solely rely on farming in order to make ends meet. But with the introduction of tourism income, the same people could stay at their home towns and villages while earning enough money to afford quality medical treatment, food, education for their children and likes.
What is the attitude of the locals towards nature protection?
The overall environmental consciousness among the Nepalese is low. For instance, when building a new road, it is done without proper planning and cutting trees is not considered a problem. But people prefer it this way because the green way of building a road would cost more and they are not interested in that. And even if the locals do have problems and are concerned about certain issues, they rarely raise their voices and speak up for themselves as they are tired, have their own excuses for not stepping in and so on.
Tourism plays a big role in changing this. Even the King Mahendra understood the necessity of having sustainable regions and you can hardly have any without healthy natural ecosystem. By introducing nature protection, the area becomes automatically attractive for tourists, who are willing to pay the entrance fee that is used for conserving purposes. This was also the case with the Chitwan National Park, the first national park established in Nepal. It showcases that nature is worth protecting, and this message has been transmitted across the country thanks to tourism.
We recognise 4 types of sustainability action players: government, community, private businesses and travellers. Which group demonstrates the most promising impacts?
All in all, I consider community as the strongest advocate in terms of sustainability action players. They are the ones who go through daily struggles, face various challenges and, eventually, have the power to amend their surrounding without relying on external forces such as government or (foreign) businesses. Sadly, private businesses happen to greenwash a lot and their positive impacts on any of the sustainability area sounds only good on a paper.
What change do you wish to see?
Following on my previous note, I wish for Nepalese tourism businesses to become more educated and climate aware so that they can indeed deliver on their promises and make sustainable tourism reality. The tourism demand has already started to and continues on requesting and calling for more sustainability within the industry, e.g. tourists wanting eco-certified hotels.
Also, I would gladly witness European tour operators to create fair, mutually-beneficial partnerships with our local Nepalese tour operators, which would make both sides satisfied. Such a change is actually in line with the aspiration of European tour operators who shall withdraw from selling unsustainable trips by 2030.
You are finished now with your master studies, what do you plan to do next?
Regardless of what future holds for me, I am going to be faithful to sustainable tourism. I aspire to have my own company one day, be it a travel agency or an ecohotel. As for the near future, I am going to pursue further studies focused on circular economy. It is very interesting topic because it not only tackles tourism but other industries as well. By combining the skills and knowledge from my previous studies on ‘Innovation and Management in Tourism’, I will be able to transfer my knowledge and innovative way of thinking to any area I chose.
Do you have a message for the readers?
Yes, I do. I hope to inspire and encourage them to visit Nepal because it is indeed a beautiful country worth seeing. There are many ways how travellers can be part of sustainable tourism, positively contributing to the places they visit.